Tag Archives: nativeplants

Underfoot: Beech Drops & Partridge Berry

By: Susan Sprout

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: Introduction & BloodrootTrout Lily & ColtsfootBlue Cohosh & Dutchman’s BreechesGround Ivy & Forget-Me-NotsGoldthread & Wild GingerCommon Mullein & Sweet WoodruffAniseroot & Butterfly WeedMyself Jewelweed & SoapwortAmerican Pennyroyal & Great LobeliaBoneset & Common RagweedPokeweed & Blue Chicory, Prickly Cucumber & Wintergreen.

Beech Drops

Beech Drops are parasitic native plants that grow upon American beech tree roots. They lack chlorophyll and derive all of their nourishment from the beech roots through a specialized rootlike structure named a haustorium. It is underground and provides the lifegiving attachment to its host, without which the plant could not complete its lifecycle. As parasites go, this one is not known to cause significant harm to its host tree because it is short-lived.

Beech Drops stem with scales and flowers.

Beech Drops can grow from 5 to 15 inches tall. Their brownish-tan stems and branches blend in with the fallen leaves. I sometimes pass them by when not looking for them specifically. I was looking last week…and what a find! The flowers in the tiny leaf axils were open, and I could see their bright purple edges in the sunlight. The leaves are more like toothy scales, and the two types of flowers can be either pollinated or sterile. It was a treat.

Soon the seeds will be dispersed by rainfall and land on the ground where they will take several years before popping into view. Find them while you can. If you don’t, look for them on a winter walk, their dried up stems poking through the white snow.

Partridge Berry

Our native plant, Partridge Berry, is a low-growing, colonial plant that folks sometimes confuse with Wintergreen. Both are perennials, found in similar growing conditions, have shiny evergreen leaves and bright red berries that may stay on their stems throughout the winter. However, Partridge Berry leaves are different with a pale, yellowish mid-rib or central leaf vein. Wintergreen flowers hang under the leaves, whereas Partridge Berry’s twin white flowers form at the tip end of its creeping stem.

Twin flowers of Partridge Berry

The most unusual clue to identification of the Partridge Berry plant is the berry itself: it has two sets of calyx lobes because the double blooms, after being pollinated, will fuse into one berry. I know, “calyx lobes”? It’s a term botanists use…just think of what the bottom of an apple looks like only much smaller! Two flowers make one berry with a pair of…oh, all right…call them belly buttons! How cool is that!

This plant provides browse for birds, deer and mice. Women in many of the Native American tribes used this plant as an aid during childbirth. Whether you call it Squaw Vine, Twinflower, Partridge Berry or Mitchella repens, it is a really cool and interesting plant!

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Underfoot: Aniseroot & Butterfly Weed

By: Susan Sprout

Find out what’s underfoot with NPC member and environmental educator, Susan Sprout! Catch up on past issues of Underfoot: Introduction & BloodrootTrout Lily & ColtsfootBlue Cohosh & Dutchman’s BreechesGround Ivy & Forget-Me-Nots, Goldthread & Wild Ginger, Common Mullein & Sweet Woodruff

Aniseroot is a member of the Parsley Family whose common name refers to its lovely “black jelly bean” scented root. Lacking sufficient sugar, colonial-era cooks used the chopped root to add sweetness to their pies and tart fruit recipes. Mmmm, yummy! The three-times compound leaves carry the scent as well as the seeds. People used to use the essential oil of the seeds as a furniture polish.

This plant is an early bloomer with sparse clusters of tiny five-petaled flowers that are long gone by now. Why do I tell about Aniseroot now?
It is all about the seeds! When this plant has mature seeds on it, the seed heads stand out at the top of the plant like antennae, waving their long, thin, canoe-shaped seeds to get your attention. That makes Aniseroot easily recognizable during the summer. Check them out when you walk through rich woods and along streams. Smell a crushed leaf for proof positive. A close relative, Sweet Cicely, is very similar in looks, but lacks scented leaves.

Aniseroot seeds

Butterfly Weed (or Pleurisy Root)
The root of this stunning native plant was once officially recognized as a medicine for pleurisy and included in the United States Pharmacopoeia. Its bright red-orange blossoms can be seen from summer into mid-fall; so look for a flash of its bright flowers out across a dry field or wild pasture. They really stand out. A member of the milkweed family, this plant may lack the gooey, white sap of its other relatives, but it sure does attract lots of butterflies!

Standing about three feet tall, its stiff, alternate leaves look like smooth spear points. The long, narrow pods that follow the flowers will split when dry to release many seeds carried on the wind by silky parachutes. Historically, cave dwellers in Arkansas, mound builders in Ohio, and Iroquois tribes of the northeast have all used butterfly weed stem fibers for making cords and other textiles. It has a wide distribution…must be the silky parachutes! Plant some in your garden. The butterflies will love you.

Susan Sprout is a retired school teacher who continued teaching after retirement at Montour Preserve helping teachers of  handicapped students with nature walks, at the National Shell Museum as a curator of the fossil collection, and as teacher of Shell Studies at the local school on Sanibel Island. Based on her love and study of plants, she does living history presentations of medicinal plants used by Native Americans, colonial immigrants, and people living during the Civil War. Both she and her husband, Richard, serve as cannoneers  with Thompson’s Independent Battery C PA Light Artillery.  Sue has served on the Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy board in the past. The Sprouts have been Conservancy members for 29 years.